Proportional representation is a far-reaching concept in Dutch politics, where 28 registered political parties represent the interests of its 17 million people, exemplifying its so-called “polder model” of consensus-based decision-making founded on the recognition of differences. Out of these, 15 parties are likely to participate in the European elections and 11 of them stand a chance of winning some of the 29 seats European Parliament seats allocated to the Dutch.
Despite being a small country with relatively low influence in the European Parliament, the Netherlands’ main ambition for the next European elections is to take over part of the UK’s role as the liberal superpower in the EU. Prime Minister Mark Rutte, one of the longest sitting government leaders in the European Council and a trusted voice on Brexit, has already increased the country’s political influence in Brussels over the past years. The Netherlands have also set out a strategic plan to secure as many leading positions in the European Commission as possible. According to Foreign Minister Stef Blok, policy priorities for the Netherlands in the coming years will be migration, security, a strong and sustainable economy, climate change, and the promotion of values and interests abroad.
Mark Rutte (VVD/ALDE)
With provincial elections taking place in March, Mark Rutte and his liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) are now predominantly focussed on avoiding losing any more ground to populist movements. Aside from representing the provinces, the Provincial States are responsible for electing the members of the Senate, the upper house of the States-General, which plays a key role in passing legislation. If Rutte’s coalition (which rules with a one-seat majority) loses a substantial number of seats to the opposition in these elections, it will likely struggle to complete its term.
This may have been one of the reasons for Rutte to recently state that the European elections are “not very relevant”. His statement reflected mainly on the low voter turnout for these elections, which in the Netherlands in 2014 was more than 40% lower than general elections. While Rutte is a known critic of the European Parliament, his remarks struck Socialist’ lead candidate Vice-President Frans Timmermans who underlined the importance of the EU for the Dutch economy and climate agreements, a key point of concern for Rutte’s coalition.
The VVD is expected to obtain the most seats (5) in the EU elections, a mere one seat difference with the GreenLeft (4) and the populist Party for Freedom (PVV) (4). Although Rutte has publicly rejected running for any European Position, he is seen as an eligible candidate for Council President, a position he may consider if general elections are called before the end of his term.
Spitzenkandidat Timmermans (PVDA/S&D)
Frans Timmermans is the sole contestant for the Socialists and Democrats’ to lead the next European Commission, but his own party has been significantly weakened domestically. Despite being part of the second largest political group in the European Parliament, the Labour Party (PVDA) domestically suffered a loss of almost 20% in the 2017 general election and holds only 5.7% of seats in the opposition. Rutte has so far refrained from publicly supporting Timmermans, who served as Foreign Minister under the Second Rutte Cabinet from 2012-2014.
Generally, Timmermans is well-liked across Europe for his excellent language and communication skills (he is fluent in Dutch, Italian, Russian, French, German and English) and his strong management of several major EU crises as Vice-President to Juncker. Given that Timmermans is currently the Netherlands’ main candidate, it is likely that Rutte will eventually also lend some degree of support to his nomination.
Populist parties (PVV, FvD)
In line with global trends, populist parties continue to pose a threat to the rule of governing parties in the Netherlands and are expected to win as much as 25% of votes in the EU elections. Geert Wilders’ right-wing populist and anti-immigrant PVV has participated in the European elections since 2009, obtaining a high of 4 seats in 2014. Like many right-wing Eurosceptic groups, the PVV’s main objectives combine stepping out of the EU and eurozone and radically reducing immigration. As the second largest party, the PVV has a steady support base. Yet its position has recently become increasingly challenged by the new national-conservative and Eurosceptic Forum for Democracy (FvD) under the leadership of Thierry Baudet. Baudet, a 36-year-old with a PhD in history, who has described himself as the “most important intellectual of the Netherlands”, actively aims to learn from Wilders’ mistakes and build a strong, democratic party founded on sentiments of Euroscepticism and nationalist patriotism; a strategy that seems to be working. Whilst the FvD only won two seats in the last general election, it is on track to win three of the 29 seats in the European elections (proportionate to winning 15 seats in a general election). Domestically, a potential PVV-FvD alliance would pose a real threat to the ruling coalition.
The left-wing greens are doing increasingly well under the leadership of “the Dutch Justin Trudeau” Jesse Klaver. In the 2018 local elections they managed to obtain a majority in key cities including Amsterdam and Groningen. Currently polling at 18 seats in the States General, the Greens are looking to obtain 3-4 seats Dutch in the European elections. Joining Timmermans as a Dutch lead candidate is Bas Eickhout, a MEP since 2009, who forms a two-person team for the European Greens with German MEP Ska Keller.
The European Elections in the Netherlands will take place on May 23rd.